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Máire Clerkin: Confessions of a dodgy Irish dancer

By | Published on Monday 27 July 2015

Maire Clerkin

Nearly three decades on since last performing at the Edinburgh Fringe with The Hairy Marys Irish dance troupe, Máire Clerkin returns to the Festival with plenty of confessions to share. Think you know everything there is to know about the Irish who dance? Well, assuming you’ve now got ‘Riverdance’ in your mind, read on, because Clerkin would like to retune your brain.

If the prospect of going to see an Irish dancing show conjures up images of leggy colleens and handsome lads tapping their feet in perfect synchronicity, allow me to adjust your set. Irish dancing? Come off it, diddley diddley dee, I’ll have a pint of Guinness with me shamrock, what d’ya take me for, a Plastic Paddy? I mean ‘Father Ted’s all right but none of that ‘Lord Of The Dance’ malarkey!

Until ‘Riverdance’ 20 years ago, Irish dancers had to endure a fair bit of teasing. It was most un-cool. Some of us even tried to hide the fact that we did it, and then the Irish Post would publish a photo of you in your costume, clutching a trophy and oh, the shame!

I’m a Londoner, of Irish parents, living in California, soon performing in Scotland with my show ‘The Bad Arm – Confessions of a Dodgy Irish Dancer’, which has been called “the antidote to ‘Riverdance’”. As a professional Irish dancer some forty years older than your typical ‘Riverdancer’, I am almost an anomaly. I say ‘almost’, because the world’s most famous Irish dancer is also aged 57. But he is retiring and flatly refuses to crucify his knees any more. So it’s left to me to carry the torch… and Lady Of The Dance I am not. No oiling my bare chest before each performance extraordinaire.

It is 29 years since I last appeared at the Edinburgh Fringe, with The Hairy Marys Irish dance theatre company, of which I was a founder member. In 1986, we busked on the streets, then spent our takings on liquid lunches. We didn’t stay in any of the nice hotels or private homes that sublet for the month of August. Instead, we camped in a soggy tent on the roadside about an hour’s walk from the Royal Mile. If I tried that this time I’d be arrested for vagrancy.

You’d think I might have found a new occupation by now, but no. I still passionately believe in the theatrical and transcending power of Irish dance. Do not be distracted by the bling, silly wigs and corny chorus lines. Those glitzy shows are hugely popular despite all that – it’s the rhythm, baby!

Please spare a thought for this poor soul caught in a cultural vortex, where the very thing she was conditioned to do, dictated by heritage, and to which she became accidentally addicted, was a source of deep misery, and the cause of her alienation from contemporary teenage life, which in the 1970s amounted to Motown, punk and platform shoes. Strip away the glamour, travel back to a pre-Sex Pistols, pre-Pogues era, and discover how a dysfunctional youth misappropriates her innocent hobby.

If dance is not your thing, come along anyway. Convince your friends that you can appreciate the art of traditional Irish dance in an ironic way. Un-cool no more. So channel your inner Celt and grab The Bad Arm.

The Bad Arm: Confessions of a Dodgy Irish Dancer, Gilded Balloon, from 5 until 31 Aug

LINKS: maireclerkin.com

Photo: John Funk